Just as his organization once called on leaders of the Tea Party movement to condemn “manifestations of anti-Semitism and racism” at their rallies, says Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman, it’s now urging “organizers, participants and supporters” of the Occupy Wall Street protests to take similar steps.
At the same time, Foxman adds, the ADL has seen “no evidence” that anti-Semitic views are representative of the Occupy Wall Street movement, as a whole, or that they’re “gaining traction” among other participants. And he criticizes the Emergency Committee for Israel, a right-wing Israel advocacy group, for creating TV ads that, in his words, “exaggerate” or “politicize” the matter.
The manifestations refer to a small number of anti-Semitic signs and comments that have appeared at the protests, including a handmade placard claiming that “Zionists control Wall Street” and one man’s hateful tirade, captured on video, against an elderly Jewish visitor to Zuccotti Park, site of the New York protest.
The man responsible for the sign has come to the protest on a near-daily basis, but has refused to share his name, JTA reports. He has also carried a sign denouncing “Jewish bankers” and called President Barack Obama a “Jewish puppet.” But organizers and activists have tried to provide a counterpoint, holding their own signs deriding him.
The ADL issued a statement on the matter after weeks of monitoring Occupy Wall Street and related protests around the country. Oren Segal, director of the organization’s Center on Extremism, said any economic crisis provides “a breeding ground for anti-Semites to voice their conspiracy theories” and that, therefore, the ADL is “always concerned” that they could find wider acceptance.
Referring to Occupy Wall Street protests, though, Segal said, “I really don’t see any endemic anti-Semitism at these rallies at all. Anybody can show up at these things,” including the “fringe individuals” noticed by the ADL, but “no one is coalescing around their message.”
In a phone interview with The Jewish Week, Foxman said much the same.
Similar concern prompted the ADL to urge leaders of the Tea Party movement during its beginnings to condemn “manifestations” of anti-Semitism and racism at their events, Foxman said, adding that “they’ve done so.” He suggested that he expects organizers and participants at the Occupy Wall Street protests to do the same.
Meanwhile, the conservative Emergency Committee for Israel has purchased TV time in New York and Washington for an ad referring to the anti-Semitic signs and comments at Occupy Wall Street.
The ad, scheduled to run on cable news channels, shows video footage of Obama, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer praising the protest. What follows is footage of three anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist signs and the anti-Semitic tirade, along with the question, “Why are our leaders turning a blind eye to anti-Semitic and anti-Israel attacks?” Informed of the ad, Foxman said he wishes the Emergency Committee for Israel “wouldn’t politicize” or “exaggerate” the subject. “I don’t know what it has to do with Israel’s emergency,” he said. “Why make it part of the political football debate?”
Objections also came from Daniel Sieradski, the Jewish activist who’s organized a Jewish presence at Occupy Wall Street, who called the committee’s ad part of an effort to malign all the protesters and called evidence of any widespread anti-Semitism “shoddy.”
Lying about anti-Semitism or overstating its presence dilutes “the meaning and efficacy of the term, undermining our ability to effectively combat” it, Sieradski said.
William Kristol, president of the Emergency Committee and editor-in-chief of the Weekly Standard, was in Afghanistan and couldn’t be reached for comment. But the committee’s new executive director, Noah Pollak, defended the ad in a phone interview with The Jewish Week.
“We’re not calling all the Occupy Wall Street protesters anti-Semitic,” Pollak said, “and we’re not calling the movement, as a whole, anti-Semitic.” Instead, he said, the committee is simply saying that “it behooves these political leaders to warn the Occupy Wall Street protesters against allowing hate rhetoric to be a feature of the protests.”
Pollak also attacked the very message of the protest, suggesting that signs and comments against “people who work on Wall Street and the alleged 1 percent” — a reference to the richest Americans — also constituted hate.
Sieradski, meanwhile, told the JTA that protesters are printing pamphlets explaining how to confront the anti-Semites. Although he and other Jewish protesters haven’t encountered many anti-Semites, he said, “we’re still worried about it. It is in every part of our lives, and we need to stay vigilant.”
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